STAFF REPORTER PALMA

EX Partido Popular (PP) President of the Balearic government Jaume Matas, acknowledged yesterday in court in Palma that he was responsible for contracting the services of Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava to design the Palma Bay Opera House during the last Balearic government but defended the legality of the project and its presentation costs of 1.2 million euros.

Matas, who is an ex Central Government Minister for the Environment, was in court for two hours to make his declaration. Charges of misappropriation of public funds are being brought against him by the Public Prosecutor who says that none of the money that was spent on what is being alleged as an unnecessarily lavish project, was in the public interest.

The Prosecutor claims that the contract for the design and presentation of the Palma Bay Opera House was assigned directly to Calatrava without going out to public tender, despite the high costs.

Matas defended his decision to appoint Calatrava as a “political” and “completely legitimate” one. The ex Balearic President said that after making his choice, he apparently tabled Calatrava's credentials before the regional government, describing the architect as a person who was “fully competent” for the job. Matas insisted that were the building of the Opera House plan to have gone ahead, it had been the stated aim of the Balearic government to accept the services of Calatrava as architect and engineer. “In no way do I regret my actions,” Matas said yesterday to the court. “The only reason that the Opera House project didn't get Parliamentary approval was that it was timed at the run-up to regional and municipal elections in 2007 (which the Partido Popular lost).” His comment came despite the fact that one of the accusations of the Public Prosecutor was indeed that Matas had wanted to use the project as one out of which to make political capital. “I wouldn't hesitate in employing the services of Calatrava again,” furthered Matas. He then made a point of saying to the court that he was confident that a Balearic government of the future is quite likely to start up the Opera House project again. “It's a real shame that the plans have been put on a back burner and that the public has only come to have some in-depth knowledge of them due to this court hearing,” alleged Matas.

However, when pressed on administrative matters of the design and presentation project, such as the apportioning of subcontracts prior to the approval of such action by Parliament, Matas preferred to disassociate himself in the hearing from such decisions, saying that he had confidence in the work that was undertaken in this regard by - amongst others - the Balearic Institute for Infrastructure, and Cultural and Educational Services (Ibisec).